Leading Belarus opp figures go on trial


The trial of two leading Belarusian opposition figures — Maria Kolesnikova and Maxim Znak — began on Wednesday behind closed doors at a court in Minsk. If found guilty they could each face up to 12 years in prison.

Attending the court behind a glass screen in the capital, Kolesnikova smiles and appears to be dancing to a beat of her own. The video has gone viral with people calling it “priceless”.

The opposition activist, one of three women who joined forces to challenge Lukashenko in August’s vote, can be seen raising her thumbs and making a heart shape with her fingers – a gesture that became a symbol of the protests, the BBC said.

Belarus was gripped by mass protests last year, triggered by an election widely believed to have been rigged in favour of Alexander Lukashenko. Protest organiser Kolesnikova and opposition lawyer Znak were charged last September for incitement to undermine national security.

Street demonstrations continued for weeks after the disputed August 9 vote, which the EU and US rejected as neither free nor fair.

The protests were often broken up brutally by police, and thousands of people were detained.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, later cracked down massively on his opponents.

On the eve of the trial, Kolesnikova’s father Alexander told the BBC that he had not been allowed to see his daughter since her arrest, but that she wrote to him every day.

“I know my daughter is not guilty,” he said, adding: “She told me, ‘whatever sentence I get, I’m ready for that’.”

Kolesnikova and Znak, both aged 39, are members of the National Co-ordination Council, which was set up by exiled opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya following the presidential result.

Prosecutors accuse the council of trying to stage a coup, and Belarusian authorities said both defendants were accused of harming national security and destabilising the country.

They have been charged with “conspiracy or other actions committed with the aim of seizing power”, threatening national security and “the creation of an extremist group”.